Paul Pholeros was a man of imagination, vision and courage.
An architect, he saw very early in his career the impacts of living environments on health conditions. He travelled extensively through Australia as a student and young graduate architect, spending time in remote areas and particularly in Aboriginal communities. As a great listener he learned about “country” and the delicate balance between inhabiting and preserving “place”.
While slowly gaining architectural experiences in Australia and overseas, he was drawn to addressing the issues that create inequities in society. Over the years this grew from providing graphics support for community advocacy programs to being recognised internationally as a passionate leader of programs that improved living conditions in marginalised communities through the delivery of practical solutions. At the same time his architectural practice was producing exquisite domestic and public buildings in often challenging environments. Paul never published these projects in journals, nor did he enter awards competitions, preferring instead to respect his clients’ privacy and the relationships he had built with them.
Looking beyond the boundaries that would constrain other professionals, Paul had a collaborative ability to bring in a diverse range of skilled people into his teams – the professor of flies, the doctor of dust, medicos, industrial designers, plumbers, artists, visual arts students, even dentists.
A naturally gifted teacher, he inspired generations of students, notably by taking them outside the walls of academia and exposing them to sometimes harsh and often culturally diverse environments, where they worked on a “real project”.
Real work on real projects – Paul had very little time for “talkshops”, believing the “work is the advocacy”. The work/projects grew out of listening to and respecting the target community’s needs and capacities, always focussing on local training where possible. The advocacy was supported by data collected during the projects, that became evidence of the positive effects of the “survey/fix” approach, as opposed to “survey with no service”.
He will be remembered publicly for his commitment and success in driving programs to improve Indigenous housing and environmental living conditions in Australia, particularly by leading the organisation Healthabitat that he cofounded. The principles were further applied to projects in countries such as USA and Nepal, South Africa, Bangladesh where Paul and local teams worked more specifically on plumbing and sanitation related projects.
In 2007 Paul initiated village based sanitation programs in Bhattedande village, Nepal. He worked with the families, local managers and village construction teams to improve sanitation conditions. Toilets and waste removal systems – septic or biogas – were constructed for 58 homes, along with rainwater storage tanks. The project moved to nearby villages and Paul and his organisation Healthabitat also started working on school based toilet systems along with international partners IAPMO and WorldSkills.
In 2013 Paul started exposing groups of architectural students to the issues faced by rural villagers, and combined their skills with those of plumbers, carpenters and bricklayers to guide a “continuous improvement” approach to building and installing high quality toilets and waste disposals system – septic and biogas.
It was through these projects that Paul became linked to the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and WorldSkills. Working with these organisations he became involved in the Community Plumbing Challenges in Singapore, India and South Africa, believing strongly in the potential of the young participants – both being inspired by, and inspiring, them.
Paul modestly accepted the many national and international awards he received, attributing these recognitions to the teams of people he worked with. In 2007 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia, AM, for “service to the community by improving the living conditions and, consequently, the health of Indigenous communities through the design, development and improvement of housing and the surrounding living environment and working with, and creating employment for, local Indigenous people.”